Liesl Jobson


She chants a new liturgy, connecting posture like a psalm recited while stretching through her pain. She tunes out anxiety, centers and balances, stilling the chattering monkey mind. She watches sugars, meditates on forgiveness, exercises daily, but not past tired. The canon is moderation, kindness, staying in the moment. But when terror like a clarinet's shrill wail slices the night, the doctrine of self-care is an empty prayer. She forgets to release, to live in hope, to trust in resurrection. The shards of rage lodged under her rib are a sin so original they reinvent themselves faster than the self-help annunciations that proliferate, littering her bedside table.

* * *


The doctor advises a gastroscope, to investigate the reflux properly. It might be a bacterial infection, could be a hiatus hernia, a parasite. Hard to tell, he says, without going in to look. The ulcer medication doesn't help. She can't disclose that she already has a diagnosis. She can feel the hard edges where the cracks of her broken heart zigzag out from under her left breast and into her oesophagus, up her throat, into her mouth. She can taste the bitter, abrasive edges where an armour-plated catfish swam through her chest, leaving behind its scales and barbels. She knows what happened. She just can't say. She walks tall, lengthening through the neck, imagining the ruff of an Elizabethan collar elevating her head, as if pulling her up and away from the wound below her ribs. Like a queen in a tower awaiting her beheading, she resists.

* * *


Tonight is so calm that nothing moves; not even the curtains rustle. By the orange glow of the streetlights penetrating the dark I wait for sleep and listen to his whispers, "D minor in thirds" and "C-sharp major, double octaves". He's teaching Natalie, his best student with the slender fingers, the one who practises Gardens in the Rain. She wants to become a piano teacher too. When he mutters, "Jolly good. Now play The Galloping Horse," he's teaching a gradie, always soft and polite. "E natural at the top; E natural please." Some nights his guttural screams pierce the silence, like a night bird startled by a cat snake. He shouts, "Get away, get away." I stroke and soothe him, saying, "It's just a bad dream." Last night he woke me: I was a teacher again, on lifeguard duty, and screaming at the children, face-down in the water, unmoving.


Liesl Jobson lives in Cape Town, where she is deputy editor of BOOK SA, a daily literary journal covering the South African literary scene. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in numerous publications in South Africa and internationally. She won 2005 POWA Women's Writing Poetry Competition and the 2006 Ernst van Heerden Award from the University of Witwatersrand. A collection of her flash fiction 100 Papers, and a volume of her poetry, View from an Escalator, were recently published by Botsotso Press.